Chicago grows program for safer student commutes

Chicago grows program for safer student commutes

(Ill.) The Chicago Public Schools board of education approved the expansion of a collaborative city effort last week that’s been shown to reduce crime along the routes children regularly take to get to and from school.

More than 75,000 students will now be served under the district’s Safe Passage program, which provides for approved community organizations to monitor locations that are known trouble points for violent crime, fights or drug use in order to deter potential criminal activity along a handful of paths commonly taken by students before and after class.

“Student safety and academic success go hand and hand, and that success starts every day with a safe commute to and from school,” Janice Jackson, acting CEO of CPS, said in a statement. “Safe Passage provides students with a well-­‐deserved sense of support as they travel to and from school, helping them remain focused on learning, growing and embracing their educational experience.”

Gun violence spiked in Chicago in 2016, which had been the deadliest year in nearly two decades, with more than 4,300 shooting victims and 770 murders, according to Chicago Police Department data.

Since the first of this year, 187 people have been victims of a shooting, according to a database of shooting victims maintained and updated weekly by the Chicago Tribune. That is a significant decrease since 2017, when 290 people were victims of gun violence by this point in the year.

While that downward trend may be feel like an improvement, kids are still often the victims. As of January 14th, at least 15 children aged 18 and younger have been shot, according to the paper’s data. The youngest was 5 years old, one was 12 and two were 13. The majority were between 16 and 18 years old. At least a handful of those incidents occurred during the afternoon after school had been let out.

The violence has pushed members of the community to take their own steps to help keep kids safe. Since 2014 for instance, the group Mothers Against Senseless Killings have set up a row of lawn chairs at the crime-plagued intersection of 75th Street and Stewart Avenue on the southern edge of Englewood during Chicago Public Schools' spring break.

The district’s Safe Passage program began in 2009 with 35 participating schools. Analysis of CPD crime statistics and school records by the mayor’s office shows that crime along Safe Passage routes has decreased by 32 percent since the 2012-13 school year, and attendance has improved at campuses involved in the program. Additionally, there have been no serious incidents to date along Safe Passage routes involving a student during operational hours while Safe Passage workers are present.

Through the program, nearly 1,400 personnel from 20 community-based organizations are strategically positioned to deter potential criminal activity from taking place in front of or involving students. The CPS Office of Safety and Security provides training to each Safe Passage worker that includes relationship-building skills, de-escalation strategies and important safety protocols to support students during their daily commutes.

Members of the organizations–which include the Westside Health Authority, Alliance for Community Peace and Bright Star Community Outreach–live in the communities they serve, which proponents of the program say allows them to better establish relationships and positive engagement with students and families.

The district Board of Education voted to increase Safe Passage spending authority by $1 million to fund the additional 14 routes. Full funding for the program was provided by the City of Chicago through its 2018 budget.

Fourteen elementary schools were added to the program, bringing the total to 159 schools serving more than 75,000 students.

“By expanding the Safe Passage program again this year, we are doubling down on a successful model that ensures the support our students need so they can focus on their studies and on their future,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “By helping thousands of Chicago’s students get to school safely, this effort by the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Police Department and by our dedicated Safe Passage workers exemplifies the city’s core values.”